Clearing up Covenants
I have received a few letters regarding covenant that I need to clarify. The definition of a covenant according to Webster’s Universal Unabridged Dictionary is, “the conditional promises made to humanity by God as revealed in Scripture.
While there are certainly formal covenants such as the Noahic, Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, there are also implied relational covenants that God has with persons as He interacts with their lives. I used the idea of covenant with Adam and Eve as well as with Cain and Abel. In both cases, the individuals were aware of God and His expectations of them as His creatures. Their actions, both toward and away from God, indicated that they were fully aware of that expectation. One example of their acknowledgement would be when Adam and Eve choose to disregard God’s statement to them that they are to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They are aware that this is God’s test. They are also know that God has given them everything else. Their choice, which began in their desire to have something they were not intended to have, broke the “covenant” or relationship with God. God told them this would happen.
In the case of Abel and Cain, we see Abel coming to God with a sacrifice, albeit not the formal sacrifices that Israel was to make for sin. Abel knew his sacrifice was what God would want because Abel was in a relationship with God (covenant). Cain, on the other hand, was not as diligent in bringing to God something that he knew God would want. It was Cain’s desire to bring what he wanted and not what God would want. This indicates a lack of desire to please God and to uphold the relationship or covenant with God. Cain’s reaction indicates that he was not interested in doing good; he was expecting God to take whatever he brought. The fact that God rejected his offering only angered him more and he reacted in jealousy by killing his brother. God’s response to Cain was similar as that to Adam when He called Cain to repent. But Cain would have none of that. He was intent on blaming God for his shortcomings. God, knowing the hearts of men, is always aware of the covenant keepers and covenant breakers. He sees our hearts.
All covenants have promises and conditions. God promised Adam and even Adam’s family a long relationship with Him. The condition was that Adam be loyal to that relationship. It is always man, and not God, who cancels the deal. Then, God tries anew. God’s covenants are always a reflection of the perfect harmony that He shares in community with Himself. God wants man to share in that delightful fellowship. However, man is always looking to short sheet his own side of the commitment while still holding onto the benefits. Keep in mind that it is relationship that drives the idea of covenant, regardless of the informal or formal nature of it. God is a relational God. He wants a relationship with us. So rather than externalizing the idea of covenant as a legal contract, which it surely can be, we should see it as a natural extension of God’s love for us and His desire for us to experience that love in our own lives.
Soon, we will see God make formal covenants with man. They are a little different, and yet at the core, very similar. Hopefully, this has enabled you to see covenant in a grace filled and not legalistic way.